As the chairman of the governing council of Maritime Academy of Nigeria at Oron, Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs has committed the school’s management to attain a target never before attempted: From the next session, the academy will admit not less than 2,500 students. So far, the school has never done this because of the lack of several facilities, including modern students’ hostels and large auditoriums. For an academy that must provide tools and gadgets and simulators needed for training sea farers and ship managers, even the marine engineering workshop, the fire-fighting bay and the Olympic swimming pool which ought to be standard installations for such schools were still in various stages of completion as at mid-2009. But Briggs, who holds a masters degree in law from University of London, has equally committed his governing council to make all these facilities available and complete by resumption time next session. He’s surely got a plan, as he told DDH, but what is new about it? When we caught up with him during a board meeting at Oron, Chief Briggs took us on… It came out as a masterful question-and-answer session that should give the reader a birds-eye view of developments at Nigeria’s best hope to groom seafarers of the future. Excerpts:
DDH: what is your vision for the Academy having been on ground now for just enough time to assess the place and mandate of the institution in Nigerian educational and industrial life?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Well we knew once we came on board that we had a serious job to do. We knew we had to make a mark before we leave this Academy. What we have looked at is to see how we can move the Academy from where it is today to a world-class Academy. First of all, we thought we could have the Academy as the best maritime academy in Africa within the first two years and then make it one of the leading academies internationally within the next five years. Accordingly we asked the Rector to work on a programme of activities for the Academy between now and the next five years, structured in two phases: what we would have done in the first two years and then we assess if we are able to meet our targets. And then, the next five years. And then at the end of the five-year period, we can see what we would have been able to achieve. Am also not deluded to think that this current board will be on board until the next five years. But whatever it is, let us have the framework and then work accordingly. We are sure that whosoever takes over from us will be willing to take on that framework because it is a framework that anybody will be willing to take on. Then, we have moved along those lines and you can see today that there are a lot of projects. Those who were at the Academy nine months ago won’t even believe the level of what we are doing here today. We already also have little cooperation now from NIMASA. For the first time, the statutory allocation from NIMASA to the Academy has been paid, even though not in full but more than 60% of it has been released to us. And the Minister too has been very helpful because he gave the instruction down to the DG of NIMASA to ensure that the Academy is well-funded. So far, 60% of what is owed us has been paid us; hopefully we shall get the balance 40%.
DDH: How is the Academy going to do about the training vessel for the cadets?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: The practice before now …when the Academy was set up, that time we had the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), we had trading training vessels that were being used from the fleet of the shipping line. Unfortunately, we don’t have an indigenous shipping line, so we don’t have a training vessel. We are using simulators but, of course, we also need to have the practical experience of using a training ship. But the plan we have now is to see how we can partner with the Niger Delta Ministry and the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) if they can fund a training vessel for us. If we can also get NIMASA to get a training vessel using the Cabotage Fund… these are various options that we have and we have tabled those before the Minister. You know we also have the mandatory one-year training programme that seafarers must have onboard vessels. When we had a shipping line that was easy, we had them attached to the shipping line which set out two vessels to embark on that programme for us. Unfortunately today, we don’t have that. What we are trying to do is to see if we can get the Minister to have a ministerial meeting between the Minister of Transport and that of Petroleum, to see if they can get some of these our crude oil marketers who market Nigeria’s crude oil (because they all have big vessels), as part of the criteria for marketing Nigeria’s crude oil, that you take on a certain number of cadets from the Academy on board your vessel for one year or six months on training. We hope that we would be able to achieve that. The Minister liked the idea. We are trying to ensure that the students that we have here are one of the best you can find anywhere in the world, well equipped and well trained and can be gainfully employed by international maritime companies. That’s the minimum of what we want to have here. You see our emphasis here is also on hostels and classrooms and all that. We are working on a 200-capacity hostel for male cadets; a 100-capacity hostel for female cadets. We are also rehabilitating the ones that we have. In the next three to six months, we would have been able to rehabilitate fully, from the NIMASA funds.
DDH: Are you having problems with something like due process certification to have your projects on course?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: You know there is a minimum standard that all the parastatals must follow. So all our jobs are advertised, and you can see, in two national dailies, which we do. And then we also allow different contractors to come and pre-qualify for them, and then it goes through the normal tender processes, and then…you are given these contracts, as mandated by the federal government. So, yes, everybody has issues with due process which we all must follow if this country must move forward. Sometimes, some people complain that it is a bit cumbersome. But, of course, once Nigerians begin to do things properly, then all of these complaints would be gone.
DDH: On the national political stage, there is the amnesty programme of the federal government which has achieved some relative peace pending the execution of the promised projects that should correct perceived grievances in the Niger Delta region. How have the elites of the Niger Delta contributed to this achievement and what is being done to ensure that the forward march to enduring peace in the area is sustained?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: At our last (M.A.N) board meeting, even before the October 4 th (2009) deadline which the federal government gave to the militants, we already knew that the Academy was best positioned to assist the federal government in its post-amnesty plan. Because most of the young men and women in the creeks are ones that the Academy can train. Some of them don’t have the requisite qualifications to go on the HND programmes that we have but we knew that we also could design short courses for them. We have also sent that list to the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) to look at how we can collaborate. The problem we thought we could have was that of infrastructure; we didn’t have enough hostels to accommodate the number of persons that we might have to train. So we are hoping that if we are able to partner with the NDDC that they might be willing to fund some hostel construction here for us. You know, (we are hoping) to accommodate all kinds of collaborative efforts with the NDDC which we put on ground and discuss with the Niger Delta Ministry our working on all of those. Hopefully, in the next three months, we would have made significant progress but what is important for us to know is that this Academy is well positioned to assist the federal government in its post-amnesty plan.
DDH: The Maritime Academy is also being positioned by its management to liaise with other bodies and private sector concerns to provide tuition and scholarships in various aspects of technical and professional education. What is the board doing to accelerate this process?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: We are trying but what has happened in the past is that we have different bodies like the LNG assisting us with equipment, with grants and all that, and then a few students, the best of the class, are bound to benefit from that. What we know that we can do, is as state governments become aware of the huge potentials that abound here at the Academy then they will begin to assist most of their wards who, unaided, would have been qualified but would not have been able to afford the tuition and all that here. It’s not an expensive Academy but we know that as state governments and different multinational companies begin to know of the existence of the Maritime Academy, and what Maritime Academy can achieve, then they will be willing to grant scholarships to various persons. So what we are doing now is to take our case before the press. We need to do a lot of publicity so that the press gets to know that there is an Academy. I must complain to you that before I became the chairman of this board, even I didn’t know that there was an Academy until two years before I became chairman. Because some persons working with me wanted to come here for training, and said they wanted to come to the Maritime Academy in Oron. I said is there an Academy at Oron, they said, oh yes. And so they came. And when they came back they complained that well, the school didn’t have enough facilities. But between then and now, you can see that a lot of progress has been made and if am an employer today and has a programme to assist any person, I would look to the Academy because there are huge potentials today in the maritime sector, very huge potentials. Most of the young people that you want to train, even these militants that you want to train, are ones that want to leave the Academy or whatsoever training that you have for them, and have a job immediately. That is the only way that they feel frustrated. Because if you train them and they have to wait for another six months for a job or nine months, they begin to feel that they the life they had was better than the one you are offering them now. So, this Academy is about the best place to train them and equip them and see that they are prepared for the challenges of this twenty-first century.
DDH: On a personal basis, do you serve as a role model for them or do you prescribe your path of education as essential in their struggle to make it in life?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Well, my father was very strict… Am a lawyer today, I hold a master’s degree in law from the University of London, even though I didn’t want to become a lawyer. But of course, at that time when we were growing up, we couldn’t break from our parents. What you wanted as opposed to what your parents wanted would always be secondary. So my brother insisted that I must read law. And that training has also helped me to take on other challenges outside of the legal profession. Into oil and gas; am also into entertainment. And whatever field I find myself in, I see my law background has been very helpful. Am also into politics. And so education is key. We need to encourage our young ones to take on the advantages and opportunities that are available. We also would impress upon our governments to create opportunities for everybody so that the corresponding expectation for responsibility from all is also deserved. Like you know, if you don’t provide the opportunities, then it becomes difficult for you to insist that they must lead very responsible lives. If you want to insist on that, I mean as a government you can insist on that. But you also have your part to play in letting them understand the opportunities that are available. That way, of course, they will understand that there will be carrot and stick approach.
DDH: Is that what you call the responsibility of the elites in the Niger Delta?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Oh yes, precisely. We have to care, especially for those who live in the shadows of life. Those of us who don’t have the opportunities … we have to take care of them….
DDH: Otherwise they can make life uncomfortable for everybody?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Oh yes. We would not be running a socialist system by that. The fact that you provide opportunities doesn’t mean that you are being socialist. It just means that you understand the environment that you are in; and accepting that all fingers are not equal and that certain persons will need certain levels of assistance to be able to achieve their potentials. So there has to be very conscious efforts by the government, by the elites, by the leaders, to ensure that everybody’s skills and strengths are identified and then opportunities that are available to them in those various fields are made known to them. You see, what you have abroad is job centres.
DDH: I was going to ask you if you learnt this example from your experience of what takes place overseas, especially in Europe?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Yes. You have job centres and these jobs are advertised locally. And people are encouraged to come and apply for these jobs. But we would ordinarily know of these jobs. But sometimes it is difficult to know that a particular job is available. Once you know that those jobs are available, they also offer mentorship: They teach you how to apply for those jobs and then teach you how to work in those various fields. You know the government doesn’t want you to be a liability. So the point is that they are trying to ensure that these people are well prepared, and that we have opportunities for them and that they are prepared to take on those opportunities. If you ask Shell, for instance, to employ some of the young ones, they will tell you that they don’t think that they are well suited by Shell standard. But if you know what the Shell standard is, then you begin to make it a point that the persons you are going to send to Shell for interview will qualify. So Shell would have no reason to say that these persons that you gave to us didn’t meet our standards. So, you must have a deliberate policy as a government not to shove people down the throats of these multinationals but that you send to the multinationals people they will have difficulty refusing. So the primary responsibility of training them and equipping them with the tools that they will need to succeed is that of the state government, plus the private agencies that aid the state government in achieving state government goals. Once that is done, then you are able to send these persons to them. And if Shell still says they can’t take them, then there has to be a different reason for rejecting them.
DDH: Maybe then you apply your political will?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Oh yes, that’s what I am trying to say. So what we are trying to do here at the Academy is to train people with all the equipment that they will need for their training and to give them the best of education using the best of standards. Fortunately, as we discussed today (at their board meeting), there is a lot of interest, foreign interest, a lot Indians and Malaysians, who are applying to come and lecture here. And that’s because in the last one or two years, the Academy has made tremendous progress and people have become aware that there is an Academy here in Nigeria at Oron. A lot of people thought it was a local establishment in Akwa Ibom for Akwa Ibomites. No, it’s a truly national thing. And we have a lot of collaboration that we are working out now with the regional maritime university in Ghana, Abidjan and Egypt. Even the training vessel that we are going to get, we will arrange it in such a way that the Academy in both Abidjan and Ghana will also benefit from it. They will pay a certain fee to use our training vessel here. So these are some of the things we are working out and with the level of seriousness of this federal government, honestly, we won’t believe where the Academy will be in the next …the target is to set out for ourselves for five years what we might be able to achieve in three.
DDH: What we see here also is that you have so many projects going on simultaneously. How are you doing quality control to make sure that they are delivered according to the exact contract specifications?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: Well, you know, as part of the federal government policy, there has to be a consultant whose responsibility is to ensure that the projects meet with the standards. We have the bill of quantity and all the materials that we need to use, to ensure that they are being used. We have a consultancy firm that undertakes all of that. Then as a board, we also have a project monitoring committee. Aside from what the consultant does, we also go out. Like today, at the end of this meeting, we are going to go round with the consultant to inspect all the projects. So that if we have issues, we are asking the contractors, we are asking the consultant, why is this not this, why hasn’t this been done. And then we have explanations. If we are not satisfied, we begin to implement measures to remedy the situation. In fact, if we had more funds, we would have been able to do a lot better. We know that we have onerous responsibilities on our shoulders.
DDH: What do you think qualified you to be placed as chairman in this specialized institution?
Chief Dumo Lulu Briggs: I think that those who appointed me know my potentials . They think that it’s a job that I would be able to deliver. Also my enthusiasm and interest in anything that relates to education and human capital development …they think that well, this is somebody who has over time spoken so much about this…it would be nice to see if it is not just talk; now that we have the opportunity let’s see if he could be able to deliver. So, it’s not lost on me that the expectation is so high because of the way I have portrayed myself. So, I cannot fall short and, God helping me, I won’t fall short.